QUESTION: I've been married for
13 years, and have 2 children ages 9 and 5. Both my husband and I
work outside the home. I feel very fortunate to be in a very loving
relationship both with my spouse and our children. We get along very
well and respect each other.
The problems come with "sharing responsibilities".
My husband will help out almost every time I ask, but I do not understand
why I have to "ask for help" when it is clearly evident that help
is needed. Such as when I am running around the house in the morning
trying to accommodate everybody. I get extremely aggravated when
I feel that the "household and children responsibilities" are mine.
I would like to leave for work in the morning without feeling like
I have already put in a full days work.
ANSWER: You are not alone in encountering the "cultural
loading" that women experience in families. Though it is true that
your spouse is loving and clearly a very responsible husband and
father, you resent the sole responsibility for overseeing all of
the emotional caretaking in the family.
Women who provide economically are still primed
for accepting home and emotional caretaking responsibilities, while
men are not. The overwhelming outcome is for women to overwork.
But this work "overload" often comes with a high price tag of increased
depression and decreased marital satisfaction.
Talk with your husband about your feelings. Let
him know that you appreciate him, but feel alone with the emotional
responsibility for your children's well-being. Though your husband
responds to your requests, his lack of initiation or independent
responsiveness reveals that he leaves the work of "worrying" about
these things to you.
Women are raised to accept emotional responsibility
for caretaking others. Traditionally, men are not. You have a "good"
marriage, in that your husband respects you and honors your opinions
on these matters. Perhaps you are looking for an even "better" marriage
which does not leave you alone in your "sense" of responsibility
for how the house looks, is run and how the children "turn out".
It is true that women feel pressured to devote
more to motherhood and household duties than men because they are
viewed by society as "more responsible" (consciously and unconsciously)
for the result! Consequently, the set up for men to report feeling
a lowered "standard" for housework and less expectation for involvement
in their children's development than their female counterparts is
Despite the natural inevitability of this gender
paradox, it is essential to the intimacy in your marriage that your
spouse attempt to understand this dilemma. Bridging this gender
gap may not be entirely possible, since you may not be able to unprogram
your own involvement and he may not be able to fully sensitize himself
to "feel" the responsibility in the same way that society reserves
for mothers. Still, much can be done to increase awareness of these
differences and changes in behavior can result.
Talk with your husband about his experience of
his father with respect to household chores and raising children.
What was the role of his mother in the family? How did his parents
share economic and emotional caretaking and household responsibilities?
Compare the work his mother did for the family with his father's
responsibilities. Compare the divisions of work that exist in your
own family currently. Point out to your husband that you work similar
hours in providing for the economic health of the family and that
you need him to step forward to take initiative for organizing and
responding to the traditional realm of caretaking home and children.
Perhaps there are whole areas of responsibility
that could be shifted to your husband's plate, such as being responsible
for meal planning, girl scout meetings or science projects. It may
lighten your load to experience your husband calling you up at work
to check your schedule for the next teacher-student conference.
Such an action may also endear you to a spouse who changes in response
to your needs.
Raising awareness of gender issues in your family
will assure that your feelings do not simply fester. Talking about
inequities where they exist may not completely rectify society,
but it can be effective at lightening your load and bridging the
gap you are experiencing in your marriage.
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